Picturing Dad

Cubs Game

Dad and me at a Cubs baseball game. The Cubs lost. We still had fun.

July 31 is one of those days. If he were still here on earth, my dad would celebrate his 62nd birthday today. Many life experiences have been celebrated since his death — more babies, his grandchildren, have been born and welcomed into our extended family; deaths and burials of other family members; job changes; marriages; new home purchases; a few winters, springs, summers, and falls. The extraordinary and the ordinary. And the Chicago Cubs still suck.

If dad were still living, Joel, the kids, and I would probably make the short trek back to my childhood home where my mom still lives to celebrate dad’s special day. I imagine the dinner menu would include grilled steak and potatoes, lettuce salad with fresh veggies, garlic bread, Miller Lite, and maybe, just maybe, a slice of cake, perhaps German chocolate, with ice cream on top to finish the meal.

The past few years we’ve made time to celebrate dad’s birthday with my mom and incorporate some of his favorite foods into the celebration. This year, however, other duties call that require us to stay close to home. Maybe I’ll swing by my favorite bakery and pick up a slice or two of German chocolate cake at some point during the day.

Mourning changes, maintaining old traditions, and establishing new ones.


Daddy – Daughter Dance

There have been years when milestone dates such as dad’s birthday, Father’s Day, and the anniversary of his death come and go without much emotion. Then there are the times I am ambushed by the rush of emotions that seem to come out of nowhere. A few months after my dad passed away, I was hustling through Walgreens to buy a pair of pantyhose. Yes, pantyhose — don’t judge. I needed to be at a church event about that minute, and of course every last pair of hose I owned had holes in places too obvious to ignore. The neighborhood Walgreens and their it’ll-get-the-job-done brand of hosiery saved me once again. As I hurried to get out of the store, a man approached me from behind and said, “Hey, how are you?” I turned around and the man then replied, “Oh, I thought you were my daughter. You look a lot like her. Sorry to bother you.”

That 30-second exchange with the stranger, some woman’s father, had an immediate impact on me. It hit me then that as long as I walk this earth, I will never again run into my dad by chance at a Walgreens or anywhere else. I will never hear him say, “This is my daughter.” I do, however, still see and talk to dad in my dreams now and then, and the dreams often involve him being really really happy to see me. Usually, at some point, we hug. And that’s how I like to remember my dad — a big smile, always happy to see me, and ever so generous with the hugs.

Several months ago I came across this unique (maybe bizarre is a better descriptor?) article about how 19th-century Victorians took photos of their dead relatives posing on couches, beds, and even in coffins. While the photos shown in that article are indeed a bit somber, some may label them downright morbid, photographing deceased loved ones isn’t so foreign to me. A few weeks after my dad’s funeral, an envelope arrived in my mailbox. Inside the envelope was another sealed envelope with a letter attached. The letter explained the second envelope included photos of my father on the day of his funeral. I did not and have not opened that envelope as I simply don’t want to see photos of my father in that state. I gave the envelope to Joel and told him to put it in a place where I wouldn’t stumble on it by accident. While the person who took these photographs was very kind and gracious in doing so, it’s simply not how I want to remember my father. At least for today. Maybe my uneasiness in looking at those pictures of him in such a lifeless state has more to do with me still not reconciling his death. It’s still so very hard not having him here.

Immediately after his death, many people advised that the grief wouldn’t get easier; rather, it would just become normal, more routine. And now I understand. It isn’t any easier not having him here; it just is what it is. And I suppose there’s part of me, maybe even all of me, that resists wanting to normalize that. While I won’t be headed back to my hometown to enjoy a steak dinner and all the fixings, I am remembering so many great memories and keeping dad close to my heart and in my prayers. And I will spend time looking at photos of dad … just the ones that are full of life and hugs, like the ones I’ve included here. Happy birthday, dad!

Lucy's Baptism

Dad giving Lucy some love after her baptism. This is one of my favorite photos.

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  1. says

    Oh my gosh. It was as if you read my mind. You captured the loss of a loved one so perfectly. How true, that sometimes the “big dates” can come and go with just a sniffle, but then you walk through the grocery store and you smell peaches and you´re a basket case. It´s only through God that we get through all of this. I want to thank you for sharing your story. It truly touched my heart. My Daddy is gone 22 years now…it never goes away.

  2. says

    Beautiful, Lisa! Shared a few tears with a high school friend recently about missing our dads. Through our tears she said “I miss him so much, but I wouldn´t wish him back for anything. He´s there. He´s beholding the face of God, please God. How could I wish him to be anywhere else?”

  3. says

    A year before my grandfather died, we took video of him telling some old favorite stories. It was awesome. After he died we sent a copy to my aunt and uncle. They never watched it. Just too hard I guess. Perhaps sometimes memories are better.

  4. says

    Beautiful. My dad has been gone now for 10 years and I still get an empty feeling in the pit of my stomach when I remember how much I miss him. Thank God for our faith to see us through the pain and to know that we will see our loved ones again someday.

  5. says

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful post and sweet pics. I love the last one of your dad at Lucy’s baptism! Thank you, also, for the reminder to not take the loved ones still with us for granted. I hope you are finding comfort in our faith. I don’t know if you’ve read them before or not, but C.S. Lewis’ “The Problem of Pain” and “A Grief Observed” are great books that might bring you some healing when you’re missing your dad and don’t feel like talking.

  6. says

    My dad died two years ago this month. About a week or two after his death, a co-worker was passing around a catalog of treats for a school fundraiser, varieties of nuts to be exact. I flipped a page and the tears came! Dad LOVED nuts! Then I was laughing through tears, no more buying dad nuts for his birthday and Christmas.

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